Georgia ReportNews

Campaign Season Is Officially Here

There was a time when general election campaigns didn’t “officially” get underway until after the Labor Day weekend. Voters really didn’t start paying attention to the candidates until the campaigns had moved into that two-month period leading up to the November election.

These days, the elections start a lot earlier. Democrats and Republicans were firing at each other shortly after the July 22 runoffs, and millions of dollars have already been spent on attack ads by various Washington-based groups. This would still be a good time to look at the major races for this fall.

The congressional races are easy to predict. Georgia has 14 U.S. House seats, and there isn’t much doubt who the winners will be in 13 of those districts. Republicans Buddy Carter, Lynn Westmoreland, Tom Price, Rob Woodall, Austin Scott, Doug Collins, Jody Hice, Barry Loudermilk and Tom Graves are expected to prevail, and the same goes for Democrats Sanford Bishop, John Lewis, Hank Johnson and David Scott. The only House race really in doubt is the 12th Congressional District, where Democratic Rep. John Barrow is facing Republican Rick Allen. 

Barrow has become the great white whale for Georgia Republicans. They spend large amounts of time and money trying to harpoon him every two years, only to see Barrow swim away to another term. Then they redraw the lines of his district in hopes they can beat him in the next election.

Allen initially ran for the 12th District seat two years ago, but lost to state legislator Lee Anderson in the Republican primary. He has spent nearly $1 million of his own money in 2012 and 2014 trying to win this congressional seat, so Allen obviously wants it badly.

Barrow is a prodigious fundraiser and cranked up his general election campaign with a substantial advantage in money. The last figures from the Federal Election Commission showed Barrow with $1.87 million cash on hand. Allen, by comparison, had $225,567 in the bank, but also was weighed down by $825,000 in campaign loans and debts. Regardless of the disparity in funds, Allen will get some financial help from national Republicans and the 12th district’s demographics are still more friendly to Republicans than to Democrats. This could be the ultimate test of Barrow’s ability to survive in elected office.

In the two biggest statewide races, the Republican nominees are the favorites at this point: businessman David Perdue over Democrat Michelle Nunn in the Senate race and Gov. Nathan Deal over state Sen. Jason Carter in the race for governor. The polling website run by statistical guru Nate Silver projects that Perdue has a 75 percent chance of winning the Senate race, while Nunn’s chances are put at the 25 percent level. In the governor’s race, the Daily Kos website says the probability of Deal winning another term is 68 percent, compared to 32 percent for Carter.

The most intriguing aspect of both races is the possibility that Georgia’s election law requiring the winner to have a 50 percent plus one vote majority in a general election could force runoffs. Libertarians Andrew Hunt in the governor’s race and Amanda Swafford in the Senate race should get 2 or 3 percent of the vote at a minimum, and possibly a point or two more. They could swing just enough votes from the Republican frontrunners to pull them under that 50 percent threshold. We saw this happen in 2008 when Sen. Saxby Chambliss fell barely short of getting 50 percent in the general election and was pushed into a runoff with Democrat Jim Martin.  

In a runoff scenario, voter turnout patterns tend to favor Republicans. But the fact that either Deal or Perdue could be drawn into a runoff in the first place shows how much the political dynamics in Georgia have changed.